Following U.S.-Vietnamese talks last month and an April 10 Congressional hearing that centered on victims of human trafficking abuses, religious persecution and political repression at the hands of the Vietnamese government, a bipartisan bill was unveiled on Capitol Hill Wednesday by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), chairman of the House human rights subcommittee, along with Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce and Rep. Alan Lowenthal, both of California.
Excerpts of Congressman Smith's remarks:
Today I am joined by the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Royce, and a new member of the Committee, Mr. Lowenthal, who has recently joined the Vietnam Caucus. We also have have several distinguished members of the Vietnamese American community, Dr. Thang of Boat People SOS; Mr. Nguyen Bich, Chair of the National Congress of Vietnamese Americans and Mr. Trinh Nguyen who is the co-chair of the Vietnamese Community of Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia.
Today I, along with several colleagues, will be introducing the Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2013. This bill would institute effective measures towards improving human rights in Vietnam. This bill prohibits any increase in non-humanitarian assistance to the Government of Vietnam above Fiscal Year 2012 levels unless the government makes substantial progress in establishing a democracy and promoting human rights, including:
· Respecting freedom of religion and releasing all religious prisoners;
· Respecting rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, and releasing all political prisoners, independent journalists, and labor activists;
· Repealing and revising laws that criminalize peaceful dissent, independent media, unsanctioned religious activity, and nonviolent demonstrations, in accordance with international human rights standards;
· Respecting the human rights of members of all ethnic groups; and
· Taking all appropriate steps, including prosecution of government officials, to end any government complicity in human trafficking.
The bill would not prevent increased funding to the Vietnamese Government for certain humanitarian assistance, such as food, medicine, Agent Orange remediation, and activities to combat human trafficking.
This prohibition of increased assistance could be waived for any year in which the President determines that increased non-humanitarian assistance to the Vietnamese Government would promote freedom and democracy in Vietnam or would otherwise be in the national interest of the United States.
Last month, the human rights subcommittee that I chair held a hearing focusing on human rights abuses in Vietnam and the situation there has not improved, it has deteriorated. Peaceful religious figures of a variety of faiths remain imprisoned, ethnic minorities continue to be repressed, and the government continues to allow horrific cases of human trafficking to continue. The US Commission on International Religious Reaffirms that Vietnam should be a Country of Particular Concern for its egregious attacks on people of faith.
With regard to human trafficking, Vietnam should be ranked as a Tier 3 country in the Trafficking in Persons Report, due to its failure to take significant action to prevent trafficking, prosecute perpetrators, and help victims.